Picture the scene. A beloved cartoon character, one pretty-much recognised the world over, re-enacts one of their most recognised routines for the benefit of a character from a newer show, a show which is entirely founded on ripping off the original. The other character responds by making a joke about rape.
Actually, you don’t need to picture the scene. If you have a mind, (or better again, half a mind,) you can go to YouTube and watch the trailer for the forthcoming “The Simpsons/Family Guy” crossover.
Bart Simpson and Stewie Griffin prank-call Moe’s Tavern, something Bart has done for a quarter of a century or more now. It’s one of the most familiar routines on TV at this point. Bart phones Moe Szyslak, asks for a customer with an unusual name and gets Moe to shout that “name” to the amusement of the patrons of his seedy bar. Moe then goes nuts and threatens appalling violence should he ever catch his tormentor and that’s all folks, till the next time.
“I. P. Freely”, “Seymour Butz” and “Hugh Jass” remain fixed in the public imagination but I consider the very pinnacle of western civilisation to be Hank Azaria barking in his gravelly Al Pacino Dog Day Afternoon voice “Uh, Amanda Huggenkiss? Hey, I’m looking for Amanda Huggenkiss! Ah, why can’t I find Amanda Huggenkiss?”
In the unlikely event you don’t know him, Bart Simpson is a character who began life as a one-note, catchphrasing irritant and evolved over the years into a rounded character who, though still an anagrammatic Brat, developed a reluctant conscience and something approaching self-awareness.
Stewie Griffin from “Family Guy” is a matricidal baby with a Noel Coward voice.
Back to the prank call. This time, Bart phones Moe and asks for a friend, “Last name Keybum, first name Lee.” As usual, poor old Moe falls for it and the low-lifes in the bar crack up. Watching awestruck is Stewie Griffin, who decides he will copy Bart.
When Moe answers the phone, Stewie says “Hey Moe! Your sister is being raped.”
That’s it. That’s the joke.
Yes, I understand that it’s supposed to be a summation of the differences between the shows and their styles of humour. I get that it it’s supposed to be shocking. I accept that it says more about both programmes than all the jokes about Springfield natives looking like they have hepatitis and Peter Griffin’s entire life being built on fraud and theft.
It doesn’t matter. It’s still a joke about rape and the creators of “The Simpsons” should know better than to associate themselves with it or with the makers of a vacuous rip-off which revels in such “humour” on a weekly basis.
I’m not being holier-than-thou. “The Simpsons” has never shied away from dark subjects – Moe himself is a case in point. He is a violent man with a history of criminal activities. He has variously been depicted as homicidal, syphilitic and even as a stalker who is also a registered sex offender. And yet the character has been allowed many moments of nuance and tenderness too. Although an especially-ugly yellow-skinned cartoon character, Moe Szyslak is a recognisably-human character who has clearly known love and loss.
The nearest analogue “Family Guy” has to Moe is a clearly-implicit rapist who exults “Giggity-Giggity!” when he finds a cheerleader tied up in an outhouse. Hilarious stuff, I’m sure.
It’s hardly an original or insightful observation to note that “Family Guy” is what you’re left with if you subtract from “The Simpsons” every trace of kindness, warmth and decency and replace them with disjointed references to popular culture and an eagerness to make juvenile/edgy/wildly inappropriate (depending on your sensitivities) jokes.
I suspect that if they were real people, Homer Simpson would be that eejit you know from the pub and you just can’t explain to your friends why you like him. If you had to guess, though, you’d probably say it’s because for all his stupidity there’s no real bad in him and he has a great heart. And though he never stops whinging about them, nobody could question that he would lay down his life for his wife and kids.
Peter Griffin, on the other hand, would be that complete and utter jerk nobody would even expect you to try to justify hating.
We all know “The Simpsons” is long past its sell-by date but it’s depressing to see a once-great show sell its soul to pander to the fans of its own oafish and heartless imitator. Stewie Griffin responding to Bart Simpson’s prank-calls with a rape “joke” really sums up how just how far The Simpsons and its producers have fallen.
It’s past-time to bring down the curtain on “The Simpsons”. Hanging out with the mean kids won’t make you hip or relevant and lending credibility to your third-rate imitators just taints all of your former glory. Thanks for all the laughs, lads, but the joke’s over now and to be honest it just hasn’t been that funny for a long time.